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Biking to build bridges: A journey of peace

Updated June 26, 2013

Moin Khan
Moin Khan
In July of 2011 Moin Khan journeyed on his 450-pound motorbike from San Francisco to Lahore. It was a 20,000 mile journey that took him ¾ of the way around the world.

Arriving a national hero at the Expo Center in Lahore, some six months, 22 countries and two accidents (resulting in three broken ribs, broken shoulder, fractured thumb and damaged wrists) later, Khan was described by Shahbaz Sharif as the “star of the nation who has made a mark for Pakistan [giving the] message that Pakistanis are a peace-loving nation”.

“Lahore was genuinely happy to have me back in one piece,” Khan told me two years later from Pakistan, as he prepares for his next big adventure; a group biking mission across Pakistan that will be recorded, documented and disseminated globally with the noble goal of promoting peace, positivity and building bridges between Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Khan and I had last spoken after he had finished with the North American leg of his 2011 adventure. At the time, he was stationed on the eastern board of the US waiting for his bike to be shipped across the Atlantic to Germany.

“We should have done another interview somewhere in the middle of Germany and Lahore because a lot happened in between,” he tells me. Two accidents, a destroyed bike and a pouring in of support (and bike parts) does sound like a lot.

Indeed, Khan has consistently pushed boundaries in order to break negative stereotypes surrounding Pakistanis. His first journey, which was chronicled by major media outlets globally, made him a PR manager of sorts for the country of Pakistan, simply because he was able to, single-handedly with no map and no GPS, show the world that “yes, we are Pakistanis – and yes, we are just like you”.

Having known Khan for the past few years and having followed his project A Different Agenda since its inception, I have come to appreciate that Khan does not ignore the very real problems that confront Pakistani society. While he has neither agenda nor plan to create a solution for Pakistan’s plethora of problems, what Khan does offer the nation is a special brand of hope.

This is why I wasn’t surprised to learn that shortly after he finished his first adventure, this restless soul took off immediately to the border of Pakistan-China and surrounding areas – this time on a flimsy, 12,000 rupee, 1962 Vespa scooter. Equally unsurprising was to see Khan, who bears the swagger of a younger, browner Marlon Brando, posing alongside musician-actress Meesha Shafi on billboards across the country.

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Today, Khan remains committed to his passion for bikes and his desire to change Pakistan’s image on a global level.

And lucky for him, his project, A Different Agenda, has been seeing extraordinary success. His book on the first adventure is now complete and in the hands of editors. He is currently himself editing over a thousand hours of video footage of his San Francisco-to-Lahore trip. And there are talks of opening up a riding school for girls.

“I’m not ready for a 9-to-5 job yet,” he tells me.

Thinking back to our first interview when he had told me how he worked three jobs, lived on a diet of ketchup and rice, and left a solid position at a start-up in San Mateo, in order to raise funds, I realise that these side projects, and a sponsorship and fashion line with designer Élan, which will fund his upcoming trip, is surely a step up for Khan.

Earlier this month Khan had messaged me, after reading my article on Samina Baig, Pakistan’s first female mountaineer to conquer Mount Everest, if I could secure him a handshake with her and her brother Mirza Baig.

I had replied, “only if you’ll let me be the first journalist to write about your next adventure”. He agreed – giving Dawn exclusive access to his second big adventure.

However, a few short days after our interview (and a couple of nights before this story went to press), Pakistan was stunned and silenced by a tragedy of an unseen magnitude.

In what the New York Times has described as “one of the most brazen attacks on foreigners in Pakistan [in a decade]” gunmen disguised as police shot dead 10 tourists and their Pakistani guide. The party was attacked at Nanga Parbat and for many it indicates the proverbial final nail in the coffin of Pakistani tourism.

When news of the attack began circulating my fiancé called me and speculated, “Moin’s trip is going to be canceled for sure now”. But my gut instinct was telling me otherwise. The passion, determination and sense of urgency that I had sensed in Khan just a few days ago made me reluctant to believe that he would be deterred.

A few hours later Khan confirmed that the trip was still on – albeit with some changes.

Initially, Khan had been planning to hit the road with a team (instead of solo as he has always done previously). Four California natives were supposed to fly into Pakistan early Monday morning and the group was supposed to leave Tuesday morning.

But following the news of this tragedy, two cancelled, two still got on the plane to Pakistan – and despite the marked danger the group now faces, the trip is still on.

“Although there is a high risk now, we’ve decided to leave it up to Allah and carry on. We are devastated to the say least. But we will do what we are born to do. To strive and to achieve. Right now, this country needs love – unconditional love,” Khan rationalised for me.

“Switzerland, aka ‘biker’s heaven’, has been a haven for us [bikers] for too long. I want to show the world another country they can call ‘biker’s heaven’,” Khan had told me last week as he outlined his itinerary: departure from Lahore, head up and hit Kalaash ‘the hidden gem’, the Shandur Polo Festival, Hunza which is ‘Pakistan’s Paradise’, Khunjerab Pass the highest international border in the world, Deosai Plains which are the second highest plains n the world and plenty of places in between.

“Up north is where I came across the most hospitable people. The shopkeepers, waiters and the mechanics of Drosh, Lower Dir, Chitral, Chillas Shandur and Hunza wouldn’t let me pay. I would have my oil changed and receive a full meal… “aap toh hamaray mehmaan ho … this is KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan’s favorite line,” he reminisced.

No doubt, Khan’s undeterred spirit has a steadfast grip and the emotional force of a sonnet. I realise that he is clearly hell-bent on remaining equal parts brilliant, passionate and committed.

The goal of Khan’s campaign, A Different Agenda, has always been to bring positive attention to Pakistan. And this time around, by taking foreigners to the remote and beautiful northern Pakistan, Khan had hoped to also help bring tourism to Pakistan.

But the battle between evil and good and darkness and light continues to rage across the nation. All too frequently, in recent times, a step forward by individuals like Khan has resulted in falling two steps back. Maybe that's why now Khan and his team's journey is that much more important and necessary for Pakistan and Pakistanis.

“This year I have four people coming in. Insha’Allah next year I’ll have 40, then 400 and in a couple of years … biker’s heaven … Switzerland,” had said an optimistic Khan in last week’s interview.

Fair enough, I say. Because – as any addict knows – impulsivity is the cornerstone of addiction.

The more you do it, the more you do it.

And the more they try and stop you – well, the more you do it.